Thesis of the month

A selection of recently defended Ph.D. theses

Every year, about 30 Ph.D. theses are defended in the SPS Department. In order to illustrate the range of topics, the department presents a selection of theses chosen among those that are both of very high quality (as certified by the examiners’ reports) and whose findings may be of interest to a wider public. 


Timo Seidl on Ideas, Politics, and Technological Change Essays on the Comparative Political Economy of Digital Capitalism

Foto_SeidlDigital technologies, designed and offered by private companies, are rapidly changing how we live our lives and organize our societies - from how we consume news, to how we work, to how we get around. This process of digitalization - whereby more and more of what we say, think, and do becomes mediated by digital technologies - has a commodifying and a disruptive thrust. Digitalization is commodifying because it expands the reach of markets. On the one hand, digital technologies are used to extract and monetize data in areas of our lives that were previously walled off from commercial exploitation... View more

Timo Seidl defended his thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in January 2021. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vienna’s Institute for European Integration Research where he works on a project on the EU’s role in and ambition for the digital age... View more


Vegard H. Tørstad on After Reform: Procedural Justice and the Legitimacy of International Institutions 

torstadDo decision-making procedures matter for the legitimacy of international institutions? Social psychologists have for years shown that the ways in which decisions are reached matter in important ways for people’s beliefs in the legitimacy of organizations and political systems. However, we know little about whether and how the procedures of international institutions matter for their member states. In his thesis, Vegard Tørstad demonstrates—through case studies of the UN climate negotiations, the WTO Dispute Settlement System, and the UN Security Council—that decision-making procedures constitute an important source of states’ perceptions of the legitimacy of international institutions, and that enhancing procedural justice can improve these perceptions... View more

Vegard H. Tørstad defended his thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in January 2021. He is currently Postdoctoral Fellow at BI Norwegian Business School, where he works on the ReConnect project... View more


Eleonora Milazzo on Interstate solidarity and responsibility shirking in refugee protection. A normative approach to justice among EU member states

Milazzo_PhotoWhat do European Union (EU) member states owe each other in the field of refugee protection? How should we understand the references and appeals to solidarity among them with respect to the management of asylum flows? These questions have become increasingly relevant since the 2015 European response to inflows of asylum seekers. This is not only because solidarity is a difficult concept to grapple with, but also – and perhaps more importantly – because EU member states have repeatedly failed to manage asylum flows in a fair way. Normative political theory does not provide satisfactory tools to tackle the theoretical and political facets of this problem... View more

Eleonora Milazzo defended her thesis at the EUI in January 2021. The first paper based on her Ph.D. research has recently appeared in Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric. Her research focuses on EU political theory and the ethics of refugee protection. She is also interested in a wide range of normative and policy issues surrounding regional migration governance, EU integration, and global governance... View more

Jonas Driedger on David and Goliath: Power Politics and Military Conflict in the Backyards of Major States

Driedger 150x cropped

War and military conflict between states have decisively shaped modern history. This is particularly the case for so-called unequal neighbors, where states with globally preponderant economic and military strength – great powers – clash with vastly weaker states in their neighborhood. For example, the proximate cause of the Second World War was the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Conflict between unequal neighbors remains a significant threat for human security, economic welfare, and strategic stability across the globe. For instance, experts, diplomats, and politicians regularly warn that conflict could escalate between China and its various small neighbors, and that such a conflict could drag the United States into the unfolding confrontation... View more

Jonas J. Driedger is a political scientist from Germany, specializing in international security cooperation, deterrence, the causes of armed conflict, and international security policy, especially of NATO, the EU, Germany, and Russia. He defended his thesis in December 2020, while also being a DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow for Transatlantic Security Cooperation at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (Johns Hopkins University) in Washington DC. He was an Alfa Fellow and Visiting Researcher at the Moscow Higher School of Economics... View more

Carlos J. Gil Hernández on Cracking Meritocracy from the Starting Gate: Social Inequality in Skill Formation and School Choice

Carlos Hernandez150In contemporary liberal democracies, a college education is the best bet to climb up the social ladder for working-class families. However, inequalities by parental socioeconomic status in college enrolment remained at worryingly high levels in the last decades. Carlos’s thesis aims at answering a key unresolved question in sociological research: why are social inequalities in schooling so “sticky” over generations? To answer this question, Carlos’s thesis explores how wealthy families avoid their children falling down the social ladder from early in life. Its core argument is that negative traits for skill formation and learning—low birth weight and IQ—are less or not detrimental at all for well-off children when compared to disadvantaged peers. Upper-class parents follow compensatory strategies—educational investments and aspirations—to reproduce their status in a rigged social contest... View more

Carlos J. Gil Hernández defended his thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in October 2020. Carlos carries out theoretically-driven empirical research with interdisciplinary interests in skill formation, intergenerational social mobility and social policy. He is a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Trento, where he works in the Project “INEQUALITREES-A Novel Look at Socio-Economic Inequalities using Machine Learning Techniques... View more

Anna Kandyla on The Emperor’s New Clothes? Assessing the Democratic Value of the European Citizens’ Initiative

Kandyla_150The European Union (EU) has long been accused of suffering from a democratic deficit. One of the reforms introduced with a view to helping tackle this deficit is the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), an instrument which makes it possible for citizens to present legislative proposals to the European Commission, provided that they have collected one million signatures from at least one quarter of Member States. Ever since the ECI was introduced in the Treaty of Lisbon, it has been accompanied by buoyant democratic rhetoric. But, does the ECI indeed help enhance democracy in the EU?.... View more

Anna-Angela Kandyla defended her thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in September 2020. Her research interests focus on political participation, social movements, democratic innovations and EU governance... View more 

Joseph Ganderson on Politics by Association. Party Competition and Post-Crisis Bank Structural Reform in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany

GandersonWhen policies fail and a crisis strikes, politicians need to diagnose what went wrong and propose fixes. However, even when faced with the same problem at the same time, policymakers in different countries can reach different conclusions about what to do next. The financial crisis of 2008 presented multiple countries with the same problem: large banks that were ‘too big to fail’ needed public bailouts to prevent economic contagion and collapse after Lehman Brothers went under. Among the set of potential solutions, the most radical option was structural banking regulations: breaking up the largest firms by preventing them from combining traditional commercial banking with apparently riskier, if more lucrative investment banking. This step was universally opposed by these large banks, who argued it threatened their competitiveness and capacity to fund the real economy. However... View more

Joseph Ganderson completed his thesis under the supervision of Prof. Pepper Culpepper and defended it in September 2020. He is a researcher at the European Institute, London School of Economics, where he works on the ERC-funded project SOLID (Sovereignty, Solidarity and Identity in the EU Post 2008). Here, his primary focus is on Brexit... View more

Sphend Kursani on Contested States: The Struggle for Survival and Recognition in the Post-1945 International Order

Sphend KursaniWhy is it that some contested states survive and others do not? Contested states are entities that exhibit strong elements of empirical statehood, but lack universal international recognition from the existing society of states. An intriguing aspect about contested states is that when they emerge, they undermine the authority and sovereign claims of the internationally recognized states that try to exert control over them. But when they continue to survive and persist, they additionally show a stubborn capability to challenge the broad and long-held consensus on the protection of borders and territorial integrity of the existing members of the society of states out of which contested states emerge... View more

Shpend defended his Ph.D. dissertation on “Contested States: The Struggle for Survival and Recognition in the post-1945 International Order” in July 2020. From October 2020, he will be a Lecturer at the University of Leiden. His research interests include self-determination, secession, statehood, recognition, violence and extremism... View more 

Page last updated on 30 March 2021

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